MPs may have to sit in the Commons on New Year’s Eve to ratify a last-minute Brexit trade bill, under contingency plans being drafted by the government.
HuffPost UK understands that both houses of parliament are being prepared for sittings over what is usually their Christmas break, with a particular focus on late December.
One option is to bring any Brexit trade treaty before the Commons for a fast-tracked one-day approval on December 28, with the House of Lords told to get ready for a two-day scrutiny period on December 29 and 30.
The Commons would then complete the process on December 31, just hours before the UK leaves the “transition period” – under which it has operated within EU rules since formally leaving the bloc last January.
MEPs have also been warned to prepare for an extraordinary sitting of the European parliament on December 28 to allow time to ratify a deal.
The “New Year’s Eve option”, with MPs restarting work on the bank holiday Monday, December 28, is looking increasingly likely given the complexities of the trade talks, insiders say.
Usually, MPs would be expected to break for a Christmas recess at some point this week, but Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg has kept all options open, other than sitting on Christmas Day itself.
With hopes of a Brexit trade deal still hanging in the balance, the practical problem of a late agreement has prompted contingency plans to be prepared.
Even if a deal could be agreed between Boris Johnson and the EU, insiders expect the government’s parliamentary bill lawyers to take at least 48 hours to turn the text into a bill.
If agreement is reached this week, and a bill drafted over the weekend, the required four days of parliamentary time would take ratification up to Christmas Eve. Any delay beyond this week would mean the New Year’s Eve plan would be the more realistic option.
With the added complication of public transport being in short supply over the festive period, some MPs are hoping proxy votes could be expanded to include those who cannot travel in time to Westminster for any vote after Christmas.
Keeping parliament open would also potentially mean disrupted holidays for support staff, from security to catering and cleaning, who work in the Commons and Lords.
Commons speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle has said that he hopes MPs will be able to rise by December 21 but stressed he was happy to keep going up to Christmas Eve.
The Commons has only once sat on Christmas Day itself, under Oliver Cromwell’s rule in 1656, when traditional religious observance was outlawed.